Friday, September 28, 2012

Reel People: Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln

The film is Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay is written by Tony Kushner (Oscar nominee, Munich) based in part on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in a one-room cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky. He was named after his paternal grandfather. Lincoln's father was a wealthy and respected man in their town with considerable acreage for farming, but it was all lost when Lincoln was a young boy in a court case over property titles.

His family moved to Indiana. His mother died shortly after, and his older sister Sarah Lincoln took on the maternal role in the family, until his father, Thomas Lincoln married the widow Sarah Bush Johnson. Abraham was close to his step- mother.

In 1830 after a disease outbreak along the Ohio River, the Lincoln family moved to Illinois. Shortly after the move, Lincoln moved out on his own, taking a job carrying goods by flatboat down the Mississippi. Shortly after that job he and a partner bought a general store in New Salem, Illinois. He sold his share, and entered politics, with his first campaign running for Illinois General Assembly. After not winning the race, he became New Salem's postmaster, followed by county surveyor, and eventually after personal study, became a lawyer.

In 1834 he ran a new campaign, and was elected to the state legislator for the Whig party. In 1836 he was admitted to the bar, where he practiced under John T. Stewart.

Politically he took a stance to extend voting rights to white males who did not own property, as well as opposing both slavery and abolition.

Through John T. Stewart, he met Mary Todd. Todd was Stewart's cousin.

In 1840, Abraham Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd, from Lexington, Kentucky. They would get married (after one canceled engagement/wedding) on November 4, 1842 in Springfield, Illinois.

Robert Todd Lincoln was born to Abraham and Mary in 1843, Edward Baker Lincoln in 1846, and died in February of 1850 of tuberculosis. William Wallace Lincoln was born later that year, and died in 1862 at age 11, of what most believe to have been typhoid fever. Lincoln's fourth son Thomas "Tad" Lincoln in April of 1853, and would only live to the age of 18 dying in 1871 of heart failure.

In 1846 Lincoln was elected to the US House of Representatives where he served one two-year term. He was the only Whig in Illinois delegation. After his term he returned to Springfield to practice law, with his most common area of practice dealing with transportation law, although he practiced all types, including criminal cases.

In the 1950's Lincoln re-entered politics with an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate seat, and placing second as the Republican vice presidential selection in 1856. In 1858 the Illinois state Republican party nominated Lincoln for U.S. Senate. His rise to fame occurred around this time after giving his powerful and famous House Divided Speech.

This set the grounds for the dynamic and famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Stephen Douglas was running for senator for the democratic party. The two men decided to have "joint appearances" in 7 cities of the state in which one candidate would speak for 60 minutes, the other for 90, and the initial speaker would then have a 30 minute response. The response was very positive to the style and press coverage was over the nation, with many people interested in transcripts of the entire debate.

Douglas would win the 1858 senate race to Douglas (despite winning the popular vote, Lincoln was not elected due to to fact that democrats picked up more seats).

In 1860 New York Republican party leaders invited Lincoln to give a speech at Cooper Union in New York City, which largely dealt with how he perceived the founding fathers would view slavery. It is this speech that many believe helped lead to Lincoln's eventual presidential nomination for the Republican party that same year.

The 1860 presidential race was a four candidate race. Abraham Lincoln or the Republican party, Stephen Douglas for the Democratic Party, John C. Breckinridge for the Southern Democrats, and John Bell for the Constitutional Union. Abraham Lincoln would win becoming the 16th President of the United States, receiving just under 40% of the popular vote.

This election was in many ways a catalyst for the civil war, and a clear picture of many of the challenges the country was addressing. The American Civil War begin in 1861, and in the war Lincoln expanded the presidential role taking immediate action as commander-in-chief.

Lincoln departed from some previous interpretations of the role of state government and slavery during the civil war and on June 19, 1862 congress passed the Emancipation Proclamation, banning slavery in all federal territory.

With the war still going on during the 1864 presidential election, Lincoln ran under a new party, the Union Party with War Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate (instead of Hannibal Hamlin, the former vice president). Lincoln won with an electoral landslide (212-21) against George B. McClellan of the Democratic Party, although the popular vote was split much closer than the electoral picture with popular votes split 55/45% in Lincoln's favor.

In the year following the election the civil war was coming to a close with Lincoln taking a stance that was sensitive to the changing country, with a a relaxed stance towards Union defectors. In addition to confederate states rejoining the Union in 1865, he also urged congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which officially outlawed slavery. The amendment would pass December 6, 1865.

Lincoln did not see the 13th Amendment pass, due to a well documented assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Abraham Lincoln was shot at the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865 while attending the play Our American Cousin. Lincoln would die the next morning, on April 15, 1865 at Peterson House after being in a coma for nine hours.


The film Lincoln focuses on Lincoln's last months before the assassination and his efforts to end the civil war as well as the efforts associated with passing the 13th Amendment.

In addition to Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln, his family is portrayed by Sally Fields (Mary Todd Lincoln), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (eldest son, and Union Army captain Robert Todd Lincoln), and Gulliver McGrather (12 year old, Tad Lincoln).

Political leaders make up the bulk of the key cast members with performances by Tommy Lee Jones (Republican Congressional leader, Thaddeus Stevens), David Strathairn (Secretary of State William Seward), Jared Harris (Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant), Jackie Earle Haley (Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stevens), Lee Pace (Mayor of New York City Fernando Wood), James Spader (democratic William N. Bilboe), John Hawkes (Colonel Robert Latham), Hal Holbrook (Francis Preston Blair), Tim Blake Nelson (Robert Schell), and George Itzin (Former Supreme Court Justice John Archibald Campbell), and many others.

Already a two-time Oscar winner, will Daniel Day-Lewis be nominated, or perhaps even win the unprecedented third Lead Actor Oscar for his role as this Real (Reel) Person.

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